South Sea Pearl Adventure: Jorge Adeler visits Flower Island

My Trip to Paradise – Flower Island (Palawan, Philippines)

Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines
Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines

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Located on a small and remote island, one of the 7100 that forms the nation of the Philippines, in the heart of the marine triangle of Sulu-Sulawesi (a portion of sea shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines) which is known as the richest eco-marine region on earth, reside the largest Golden pearl farms in the world. Thanks to the kindness of Mr. Jacques Branellec, Managing Director of Jewelmer International, I had the pleasure of experiencing one of the most beautiful places on earth; Flower Island in Palawan.

Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines
Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines
Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines

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My trip begins in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where I board a small plane that takes me to Tay Tay Island (approximately 2 hr. flight). I, along with the other passengers, board a “jeepney.” A jeepney is a combination bus and jeep that is typical in the Philippines. This took us through the jungle for over an hour and deposited us at the shores of a local river where we boarded a speed boat that was our final leg of this journey to the amazing destination of Flower Island. With the help of my guide and that of Ana Marie Echevarria (the representative from Jewelmer, and head of sales and marketing) after 45 minutes, I arrived to the beautiful island that for the next week would serve as our home and the starting point for our daily trips to the diverse islands of the archipelagos where the golden pearl farms are located.

Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines
Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines
Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines

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We were greeted by Jacques Branellec, one of the heads of Jewelmer and one of the most knowledgeable people in this field. He dedicated many days and countless hours to teach me, and my fellow “students” on the sophisticated and complex operations required to successfully culture one of the rarest and most valuable gems in the world; the South Sea Golden Pearl. After many trips to the farms, I was able to familiarize myself with some of the 360 interactions involved in the culturing process, beginning with the birth of the oyster larva and fast forwarding 6 years to the extraction of the magical South Sea Pearl. These are a few of the most defining steps:

Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines
Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines
Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines

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  1. Pearl diving for the Pinctada Maxima (the largest pearl bearing oyster in the world). This species comes in two varieties: Gold-lipped and White-lipped. They produce pearls with colors ranging from white, silvery-white, light champagne, champagne and the most rare, Gold.
  2. Hatchery. With the advent of modern pearl farming, pearl farmers have ceased to rely on natural oyster beds for supply as hatchery techniques and innovations were developed.
  3. Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines
    Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines

    Click on thumbnails for larger picture and descriptions.

  4. Grow Out. The growth period for most Pinctada Maxima oysters is two to three years, to fully develop and be ready for operation. It is inevitable that oysters are exposed to constant threats from various predators, temperature and marine variations, hence, only a small percentage will make it to adulthood.
  5. Grafting. This is the insertion of a nucleus into an oyster’s reproductive organ, or gonad, in order to form a pearl. After three years of careful and meticulous monitored growth, the most suitable oysters are then handpicked for grafting. The master grafters select the best oysters based on color, strength and growth potential that will yield the most beautiful pearls. The nucleus is a round bead of organic origin (usually from freshwater mussel shells) that is carefully inserted in the oyster’s gonad together with a piece of mantle, or “saibo” in Japanese. The saibo is taken from a specific donor oyster and will influence the color of the pearl to be harvested.
  6. Coating. It will then take two to three years for the pearl oyster to deposit concentric layers of aragonite crystals around the inserted nuclei. The consistency and the thickness of the layers deposited will determine both the size and the quality of the pearl.
  7. Harvesting. At long last, harvest season comes. This is the magical moment in a pearl farm, for it is the time to reap the result of years of sacrifice, effort and dedication. Each harvest sums up the pearl farmers mission and nature’s beauty. Each harvest is different and may vary in quality. No matter how much expertise is invested in pearl farming, much is still dependent on mother nature.
  8. Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines

    Click on thumbnails for larger picture and descriptions.

  9. Master Grading. Once pearls are carefully harvested, they are subjected to a first grading process. The pearl graders sort the pearls according to size, shape, color, skin purity, luster and orient. The second grading is subjected to a more meticulous grading process preformed by a master grader with at least fifteen years of experience. These results are then recorded and forwarded to the farm control group, on order to know the reasons a farm and technician yielded the best harvest. This is translated into improvements in techniques with the goal of achieving the best possible quality pearl. The grading is faced on the following factors:
    Jorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the PhilippinesJorge Adeler in the Philippines
    1. Orient, or the inner fire of the pearl, is a unique blend of light refraction and the rainbow like color effect. It is the outcome of perfectly formed and uniform nacre thickness or coating. This is the ultimate value factor by which a pearl is to be appreciated before any other consideration. It is the critical revealing factor of a good quality pearl.
    2. Luster. While orient is the pearl’s inner glow, luster is its outer sheen. Often described as brilliance, this effect is achieved when a pearl has regular ridges on its surface which reflects light without diffusing it. A spot of light is reflected with a well defined contour if the pearl has high luster.
    3. Size. While shape is subjective, the grading according to size is objective. This factor is a direct result of the health of the oyster. Naturally, the longer it stays underwater, the more layers of aragonite crystals are formed. As years go by, natural risks and predation multiply. As the size of the pearl increases, so does its quality and value. Cultured South Sea Pearls’ size ranges from 9.0mm to 20.0mm in diameter.
      Advanced South Sea Pearl Production
    4. Shape. This, by essence, is a subjective value factor. Perfectly round pearls are preferred by the majority and are thought to be most suitable for jewelry designs. However, unknown to many, rare drop shapes, regular buttons and natural baroques, among others, also command a very high value.
    5. Color. Philippines South Sea pearls come in a variety of sun-kissed hues ranging from white to deep gold. However, the most common are warm natural colors. Namely: light champagne, champagne and gold.
    6. Skin Purity. This pertains to the lack of flaws on the surface of pearls. Ideally, the outer most layer must be flawless. However, irregularities are part of the natural characteristics that are used to authenticate cultured pearls from imitations.

After we studied all of these factors and visited all the many areas and facilities of these complex operations, we were tested and earned our certification of South Sea Pearls Expertise.

Written by Jorge Adeler.
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